The Catholic Defender: OUR LADY OF LA VANG
In 1798, the Nguyen Dynasty which ruled the entire country of Vietnam, declared that Catholicism was a foreign religious sect, and that it’s followers were leading a revolution against the ruling family. Within a short time, the country’s 37 parishes were under attack and thousands of Catholics were martyred.
Catholics had lived in Vietnam since priests first arrived in 1593. By the time of the persecutions, there were an estimated 320,000 faithful, 131 Vietnamese priests, fifty-five missionary priests, and three bishops. As the Dynasty moved forward with its plans for extermination, many Catholics took to the jungles to hide and await martyrdom.
In the late 18th century, the Vietnamese emperor was afraid the fast increasing number of Catholics in the kingdom would threaten his throne. He then started persecuting Catholic Vietnamese and the Catholic priests who were mainly foreigners. All 37 parishes in Dinh Cat were destroyed – the churches were burnt down and over 100,000 Vietnamese Catholics died as martyrs.
A good number of Catholic Vietnamese hid in the rainforest in La Vang. Many died from bitter cold, being attacked by wild animals, starvation and sickness but every night they all gathered around a tree, saying their rosary.
One night up in the branches of the tree, they saw a lady wearing the traditional Vietnamese ao dai dress with a child in her arms and two angels beside her. They believed it was the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus. They said she comforted them and told them to boil the yellow striped leaves called la vang from the trees and drink it to cure them of their illness. Which they did and they were.
A few years later, a new emperor ascended the throne and he allowed Christianity to flourish. So the Catholics returned to their villages and the story of the apparition spread. Many came to pray at the site and years later a chapel was built. A new wave of persecution followed and the chapel was destroyed but a new one was later built and this chapel was consecrated in honour of Our Lady.
In 1954, the Vietnamese Bishops Conference made the church of Our Lady of La Vang a national shrine in honour of the Immaculate Conception. In 1961, La Vang became the National Marian Center of Vietnam and later that year the Pope John XXIII elevated the Church of Our Lady of La Vang to the rank of a minor basilica.
There is no official Vatican recognition of this Marian apparition but in 1998, Pope John Paul II publicly recognised the importance of Our Lady of La Vang and expressed desire to rebuild the La Vang Basilica in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the first vision. Ten years earlier, in 1988, Pope John Paul II canonised 117 martyrs Vietnamese Catholic martyrs.
In the Philippines, the chapel of Our Lady of La Vang is now the Roman Catholic parish church and national shrine in Puerto Princesa City in Palawan and Our Lady of La Vang has become a patroness of Puerto Princesa and patroness of Palawan.